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Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.

Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.

Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.

Previous entries

April 2014

March 2014

February 2014

January 2014

December 2013

November 2013


October 2013

September 2013

August 2013

July 2013

June 2013

May 2013

April 2013

March 2013

February 2013

January 2013

Thursday January 23, 2014 | 10:12 AM

As I mentioned in my last post, most recycled plastic just ends up getting downcycled at best, dumped/landfilled at worst.


Simple, really: pathogens & contamination.

When you recycle a glass bottle, or aluminum can, or steel, that material is remelted at extreme temperatures. Bacteria and pathogens burn off, and impurities can be skimmed away. Leaving you back with nice new glass, aluminum, or steel.

Monday January 20, 2014 | 09:51 AM

The first recycling mill to accept residential plastics reportedly opened in Conshohocken, PA in 1972.

42 years later, the majority of the plastic that we put into recycling bins across the U.S. is still downcycled into lower-quality products, or just landfilled, incinerated, or dumped overseas.

Only a small fraction of all that plastic, every year, is turned back into plastic of the same quality.

According to the EPA, each year Americans generate 32,000,000 TONS of plastic waste.

Monday January 13, 2014 | 08:28 AM

It’s hard to believe that a year has gone by since my first blog post for the Press Herald. It’s been a joy & an honor to write, and I look forward to the future here!

I wanted to pause and look back on the year. The ups & downs. The beauty of our coast & our ocean. The threats it faces. The way it connects us and weaves through our lives -- even sometimes without our knowing it.

We live in an era of depleted fisheries and plastic waters. Of changing coastlines that reveal long-buried secrets. An era of uncontained consumerism & polymer lies.

We live in a shrinking world where the choices we make on one coast affect people and shores thousands of miles away.

Friday January 10, 2014 | 07:56 AM

(NOTE: This post has been updated & amended on January 15, 2014. Additions noted in italic.)

Over the holidays you may have read this article on wrapping paper being/not being recyclable.

The confusion isn’t limited to wrapping paper. It permeates the entire recycling industry. Can yogurt tubs be recycled? What about bottle caps? Can paper envelopes with plastic windows be recycled? What about laminated paper? How about colored plastic jugs? Broken glass? Rusted steel?

The reason for the confusion is simple -- different recycling companies are trying different ways to get more of "the good stuff" from us.

Friday January 03, 2014 | 09:38 AM

People ask me, as I explain my passion for a clean world free of plastic pollution, "What hope do you have to change things?" I tell them the truth:

I have little.

The problem is vast, the politicians are feckless, corporate interests are rich & entrenched. Plastic is everywhere. It’s used for literally everything now. It covers our “paperback” books; it’s embedded within “paper” salt and pepper packets; it’s even being used in currency.

We live now in a single-use, throwaway world of K-cup coffee and polystyrene dinnerware. Convenience is king, so we’ve all bought the lie that plastic is cheap.